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Oxford English Dictionary amends ‘sexist’ definition of the word ‘woman’ to LGBT-inclusive version

Emma Powys Maurice November 8, 2020

Oxford University Press updated the dictionary following a petition signed by thousands (Envato Elements)

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word “woman” has been updated to reflect LGBT+ relationships following complaints that it was sexist.

The world-famous dictionary previously described women as “a man’s wife, girlfriend or lover”. This has now been amended to acknowledge the fact that a woman can be “a person’s wife, girlfriend, or female lover”, rather than only a man’s.

The entry for “man” has also been amended to include the same gender-neutral terminology, while many other terms relating to sexual attractiveness and activity have been revised.

Other terms have been identified as “derogatory”, “offensive” or “dated”, such as the words “b***h”, “bint” and “besom”, which are listed as synonyms for woman.

The changes came after a petition was launched earlier this year by campaigner Maria Beatrice Giovanardi to get rid of all phrases and definitions that discriminate against or patronise women.

It gained more than 34,000 signatures and included the leaders of Women’s Aid and the Women’s Equality Party among the signatories.

Speaking to PinkNews in March, Giovanardi said she had been “astonished” to realise that the Oxford Dictionary used derogatory synonyms and misogynistic examples that perpetuate negative female stereotypes.

“By contrast, for the word man, the examples and synonyms are exemplary, demonstrating intellect and social status,” she noted.

“I felt I needed to point out the obvious – that not describing men and women in an equally respectful way, disadvantages women because it perpetuates negative stereotypes that present women as lesser beings, which in turn influences the way women are talked about and treated.

“This is just one of many examples of everyday sexism and how mainstream culture frequently dehumanises women by portraying them as sex objects or subordinate to men.”

In a statement to The Telegraph, publisher Oxford University Press said the dictionary is “driven solely by evidence of how real people use English in their daily lives”.

It added: “We have expanded the dictionary coverage of ‘woman’ with more examples and idiomatic phrases which depict women in a positive and active manner.

“We have ensured that offensive synonyms or senses are clearly labelled as such and only included where we have evidence of real world usage.”

More: Oxford English Dictionary, oxford university press

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